Sunday, 25 May 2014

Learning through landscapes – the fierce urgency for natural play

Guest Blog featured on: Project Wild Thing

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

In Western countries, the last century has seen staggering changes in the nature of children’s play, including ever decreasing opportunities for outdoor play. A culture of fear, over-organisation and the institutionalisation of childhood has all had a significant impact on childhood play time.
Schools have a vital role in reversing this trend, through both the attitudes of teachers and the design of school grounds - which play a crucial role in not only the promotion of, but also the type of play and physical activity children engage in. School grounds should be designed in a way that promotes self-initiated, uninterrupted, creative natural play.

Natural environments are recognised as fostering higher levels of physical activity than traditional playgrounds. When playgrounds contain natural, wild areas it provides children more incentives for play, and it has been observed that children play more enthusiastically in these environments. Less structured and creative play not only promotes social interaction with peers but  when compared with traditional playgrounds, children in naturally designed play areas exhibit orderly and long-lasting play in mixed age groups, having a further positive influence on social competencies.

As well as having a positive impact on social behaviours, spending regular time in natural environments enhances the development of motor abilities and improves concentration. Significant improvements in balance and coordination in children who played regularly in natural environments compared with children who used traditional playgrounds, has also been observed.
Play within a natural environment promotes and fosters progression in so many developmental domains because of its holistic approach. Promoting natural play in childhood realises the need for holistic, rich interactions with our environment, as well as increasing our physical activity levels and enhancing social competencies.

As a result, we could begin to see a reverse in the worrying trends of increasing childhood obesity, attention deficit disorders and mental health problems. I also believe that children would develop an even greater passion for learning, and schools would be a place where their creativity and thirst for adventure has a chance to come alive.

A more holistic approach to learning nurtures and encourages engagement in all areas of the curriculum. Schools need to feel empowered to deliver this holistic style of teaching by being given the freedom to organise and deliver the curriculum in a way that best suits their circumstances and learners.

The wheels are turning and footprints are being made, we must keep moving in the right direction, a good work has already begun. Voices are being heard and governments are beginning to recognise that changes must be made for the health and well-being of the nation.

We must grasp the need for a child nature reunion, and be a driving force in encouraging and implementing the changes that need to be made, both in and out of schools. We must continually strive for a future, or perhaps more importantly – a present, where we realise the fierce urgency for natural play, embrace the possibilities of our surrounding landscape to see a real change in the lives of our children, ourselves and the environment.

Support children’s need for learning outside the classroom by visiting here

Menna Pritchard - University of Wales, Trinity Saint David
Menna's recently completed dissertation focuses on natural play in childhood. She is soon to graduate from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David where she has completed the BA Outdoor Education programme and where she hopes to continue her research through the MA.
The programme of study offers a multidisciplinary approach to Outdoor Education which draws upon education, leadership and environmental theory to explore the potential of the natural environment to offer an alternative, experientially focused approach to learning. Visit:
Follow Menna @goingitalone, University @TSDSHOE for more.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

An environment in which to contemplate infinity and eternity - a look at 'nature deficit disorder' and the extinction of experience ...

The following is another excerpt/literature review from a paper I am currently writing "Into the Wild - the Fierce Urgency for Natural Play", looking into the causes of our disconnection from nature and exploring the consequences of a lack of natural playtime.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Richard Louv (2005)

Building on the ideas of naturalists such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Henry David Thoreau, and supported by more recent researchers and writers, ‘Last Child in the Woods’ is Richard Louv’s contribution to a body of work exploring our disconnection from nature and the worrying consequences of this.

Louv argues that children’s disconnection from nature is evident in the rise of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression. These issues are also explored by Sue Palmer’s research in ‘Toxic Childhood’ who suggests that 'every year children become more distractable, impulsive and self-obsessed - less able to learn, to enjoy life, to thrive socially’ (Palmer, 2007).

Perhaps one of the most worrying statistics of recent years is the claim that our children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents (Ludwig, 2007). In 2012, the ‘Designed to move: A Physical Activity Action Agenda’ report was released at the 8th Annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting. The report found that in just two generations, the rate of active play, physical education and overall physical activity has dropped by 20% in the U.K., 32% in the U.S. and 45% in China. It states that ‘today's 10 year olds are the first generation expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents’. The agenda puts the importance of play in plain terms, with two “asks”: to create early positive experiences for children, and to integrate physical activity into everyday life (Designed to Move, 2012).

Today’s children are encountering numerous health problems due to a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity – chronic conditions such as childhood obesity, asthma, and attention-deficit disorder have all increased over the past few decades (Perrin, 2007). These chronic conditions can then lead to pulmonary, cardiovascular, and mental health problems in adulthood. A report by the National Environmental Education Foundation (2010) states that outdoor activity in the natural environment has taken a back seat to television, video games, the computer, and a demanding schoolwork and extracurricular schedule. As a result, today’s children and young people are far more sedentary and losing contact time with the natural environment that can be so beneficial for their health and well-being. Time in nature should not just be viewed as leisure time but as an essential investment in our children’s health (Louv, 2005).

In a study investigating the links between the natural environment, biodiversity and mental health, Bird (2007) states that children increase their physical activity levels when outdoors and that they are instinctively attracted to nature. He also suggests that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may benefit from more time in contact with nature. Louv presents interviews with parents of children with ADHD whose symptoms were calmed by natural settings, alongside a wealth of international research on the benefits of nature for those with ADHD (Louv, 2005, p.107-108). He argues that more time in nature, combined with less television and more stimulating play and educational settings, will go a long way towards reducing attention deficits in children. The benefits of natural play, alongside increased physical activity levels, can be seen in the development of a positive self-image, confidence in one’s abilities and experience of dealing with uncertainty - transferable skills that can be important in helping young people face the wider world and develop enhanced social skills (Ward Thompson et al, 2006).

So what happens when we deprive our children of these powerful learning opportunities and experiences? Louv is perhaps best known for coining the term ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’- the intention behind this phrase being not to present a medical diagnosis but to find a shorthand description of the varying cost of humans’ disconnection from nature.

This term has recently seen a resurgence in the UK with the creation and release of ‘Project Wild Thing’ a 2013 film by David Bond. In it Bond explores the idea of a nature-child reunion. He laments his children’s waking hours being ‘dominated by a cacophony of marketing, and a screen dependence threatening to turn them into glassy-eyed zombies’ (Bond, 2013). His concerns are similar to that of Louv, who expresses distress at the idea of children today being more likely to prefer playing indoors than outside and who would find it easier to name cartoon characters than native species.

‘Last child in the Woods’ also complements the work of contemporary nature writers, such as Robert Michael Pyle, David Orr and Gary Paul Nabhan, who have written about the extinction of children’s experiences in nature. Orr suggests that children’s view of nature is increasingly distant, abstract and utilitarian and that ‘however affluent, their lives are impoverished by diminishing contact with nature’. He believes that when children’s imaginations are stimulated by screens, they are worse off ecologically, socially and spiritually (Orr, 2002). Pyle (1993) argues that one of the greatest causes of the ecological crisis is society’s ‘alienation’ from nature and that the extinction of experience can cause a cycle of disaffection that has disastrous consequences. Although we don’t yet have concrete evidence of the long-term effects of excessive materialism, Orr suggests that its hallmarks are ‘shallowness and the loss of deeper feelings having to do with a secure and stable identity rooted in the self, relationships and place’ (Orr, 2002).

Direct learning experiences in the outdoors can help develop our sense of place – which in turn can increase our concern for sustainability. Lugg (2007) highlights the importance of experiential learning in promoting education for sustainability. She argues that direct contact with the landscape is essential for people to reconnect with the natural world. This is supported by research carried out by Farnum, Hall and Kruger (2005), who discovered that ‘most place attachment studies assessing environmental concern or stewardship show that people who are more place attached to areas also exhibit greater concern about the ecological well-being of the area’.

In order to make the right choices for the future of the environment, we have to understand how nature supports our day to day lives and we also need to have a goal for what we want to achieve (Natural England, 2009) – ultimately, a greater concern for sustainability supported by a deeper sense of place, achieved through connecting with and learning from nature.

Perhaps where Louv stumbles in this work, while presenting his case passionately, is that he almost condemns the nature deprived to a life of impairment, both physical and cognitive. It could be argued that such condemnation of those that do not have access to a rich experience of the natural world is both demoralising and patronizing, and it lacks any form of recognition for other ways for us to improve our health and well-being. Schalit (2009) suggests that many ‘exquisitely sensitive and creative people who grew up enduring the sensory assaults of our cities’ asphalt canyons’ exist and that those individuals sought solace in places such as museums and libraries. Perhaps the reserve of the middle and upper classes, I would go further and say that solace has also been sought in urban wildernesses, creativity has blossomed, identities have been formed by children who have found wilderness in the concrete jungles they found themselves in.

While experiencing nature and deepening our relationship with it can hugely benefit our physical and psychological well-being, it is fair to suggest that it is not the only way to develop a stable identity and sense of place. I would argue however, that deepening our relationship with nature offers one of the most holistic ways to live –not only improving our health and well-being, developing our identity and giving us a sense of place, but also giving us a heart for future generations and the sustainability of our planet.

What Louv does successfully is leaving the reader with an optimistic view of the opportunities for change. ‘We must hold the conviction that the direction of this trend can be changed’ (Louv, 2005, p.309). Highlighting the success of recycling and anti-smoking campaigns in the last generation, he argues that a movement towards a child-nature reunion is starting to take root and will rise from the determination and awareness of individuals as well as organisations and national networks.

Within the UK, we can see the awareness and recognition of the importance of this issue in reports such as the Government’s ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda (DfE, 2003) and ‘The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature’ paper (DEFRA, 2011) which proposes “action to get more children learning outdoors, removing barriers and increasing schools’ abilities to teach outdoors”. These, along with the RSPB’s (2010) ‘Every Child Outdoors’ report and The National Trust's ‘Natural Childhood’ report by Stephen Moss (2012) bring together evidence of the benefits to children of having contact with nature. They support Louv’s hope and vision for individuals, organisations and governments to start recognising the fierce urgency for natural play.

We all have a role to play in reversing the trend towards the extinction of experience amongst children if we are to begin to see a reversal in these worrying consequences (Moss, 2012). And we should remain motivated to do so, because nature presents the young with something so much greater; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity (Louv, 2005)...

Copyright © Menna Pritchard 2014

Monday, 6 January 2014

Re-wilding ourselves

The following is a excerpt from a paper I am currently writing titled: Into the Wild - the Fierce Urgency for Natural Play, which looks into the causes of our disconnection from nature and explores the consequences of a lack of natural playtime. Drawing upon personal experiences and supporting literature, it examines the value and benefits of outdoor play and natural childhood, whilst being sympathetic to the barriers that individuals and professionals face in implementing this. Finally, it explores solutions to this fierce urgency for natural play, examining a new way of living in an effort to restore and ‘rewild’ ourselves and our ecosystems.

In reading for the paper, I have found the ideas in George Monbiot's most recent book particularly pertinent. It has influenced and challenged my thinking regarding conservation, and awakened many new thoughts and ideas. The below review, focuses primarilily on the ideas raised in Chapter 10.

“In wilderness is the preservation of the world”
Henry David Thoreau 

“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”
Aldo Leopold

“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
John Muir

Feral – searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding
George Monbiot (2013)

In ‘Feral’, George Monbiot tells the gripping story of his efforts to re-engage with nature, offering a compelling, perceptive and, at times, challenging vision for the future of the land, the sea and ourselves. Its central argument calls for less human intervention especially in the seas and uplands, where he explores how much nature we have lost and argues that we might be better off mentally, physically and even financially, if we brought back more wilderness.

Feral also asks compelling questions of the conservation community – not only what is trying to be achieved, but why and who for? We have to understand how nature supports our day to day lives - the natural world is inextricably linked to a wide range of our needs and wants. And while the majority of conservation efforts are to see an increasing abundance, and protection from extinction, of native wildlife because nature is seen as having an intrinsic value, conservation is also ‘for people’. Nature is good for us; our health, our well-being, even our economy. Monboit highlights that more people need to appreciate this value and suggests that restoring natural processes, letting wildlife species reclaim and ‘rewild’ the land and seas would not only invigorate our landscapes but would go a long way in inspiring people to reconnect with nature.

Drawing on the work of Stephen Moss in his ‘Natural Childhood’ report (2012), Monboit presents us with the worrying fact that in the last 40 years the areas in which many children may roam without supervision in the UK has decreased by almost 90 percent, and the number of children regularly playing in wild places has fallen to 1 in 10 from over half (p.167).

Perhaps even more worryingly, he suggests that the impacts of our disconnection from nature are so familiar that we scarcely see them anymore, an idea supported by Barton (2007) who states that “the waste of young lives through lack of purpose and lack of self-esteem barely registers on the scale of public concern”.

“Of all the world’s creatures, perhaps those in greatest need of rewilding are our children. The collapse of children’s engagement with nature has been even faster that the collapse of the natural world” (p.167)

Building on the ideas presented by Louv (2005), Palmer (2007), Gill (2007) and others, Monboit argues that the indoor world is far more dangerous than the outdoor world which parents seem so frightened of. He suggests that when confined to their homes, children become estranged from each other and from nature, and further highlights the consequences of a sedentary indoor lifestyle – obesity, rickets, asthma, myopia and decreased heart and lung function.

Regarding education, he presents research from several papers, alongside personal experience, suggesting that children would do far better in school if they spent less time in the classroom (p. 169). Natural play, he argues, improves children’s reasoning and observation, and enhances their reading, writing, science and maths. These ideas are supported by Ofsted (2008) who report that direct experiences of learning outside the classroom can ‘help to make subjects more vivid and interesting for pupils and enhance their understanding’. Research carried out by King’s College London (2011) found that children who spend time learning and exploring in natural environments perform better in ‘reading, mathematics, science and social studies’ and that it ‘makes other school subjects rich and relevant and gets apathetic students excited about learning’ (Kings College, 2011).

Following this, he presents us with the major hindrance we face in giving our children the opportunities to learn and explore in nature – what if there are no wild spaces for them to ‘rewild’? ... Why are there no wild spaces?

“The commons were home for boy or bird, but the Enclosures stole the nests of both, reaved children from the site of their childhood, robbed them of animal-tutors and river-mentors and stole their dream shelters… over the generations, as the outdoors shrank, the indoor world enlarged in importance” (Griffiths in Monbiot, 2013, p.168)

Monbiot draws our attention to Enclosure, the worldwide process of privitising or nationalizing common land, in turn, excluding the people and the uses to which it had formerly been put. In the UK this was accelerated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by parliamentary Acts of Enclosure. And with it ‘childhood was to be enclosed as surely as the land’ (Griffiths in Monbiot, 2013, p. 169). He argues that much of what made the land captivating and inviting for children was either destroyed or they were banned from, and that ever since then ‘so many fences are raised to shut us out that eventually they shut us in’ (p.168). Beyond the cities, even in rural areas, there is little ‘wild’ space left presenting a very real barrier, perhaps the biggest that we face in helping our children (and ourselves) reconnect with the natural environment.

If children deserve wild spaces to play, explore and learn in, if we believe that they so urgently need natural play to protect them from the dangerous consequences of a sedentary indoor lifestyle, then we must ensure they have access to these spaces and places. Monbiot asks: ‘could every new housing development include some self-willed land in which children can freely play?’ (p. 170). He also presents the idea of farming becoming unviable in certain areas, perhaps creating a chance for the wildlife (and people) to return to the land. We must also seek answers for immediate opportunities for children to have the chance to experience and play in natural spaces.

Authors of The Death of Environmentalism, Shellenberger & Nordhaus (2005), suggest that a collective step back is needed to “rethink everything”. Rethinking ‘everything’ requires creative, radical thinking. Monbiot dreams big dreams, ‘Feral’ is very much a work of hope. Perhaps those most likely to read it are those already well informed and fully converted to the idea of rewilding - both ourselves and the environment. Our very real challenge is how do we make this a ‘new common sense’ for the masses? How do we present this in a way that is inspiring and, importantly, realistic?

To begin, I would suggest that areas such as the school environment in which children spend so much of their time, as well as local parks and green spaces, need to be radically rethought, re-imagined, redesigned. Indeed this has already begun to take place but needs to become more wide spread. We also need to look at re-educating ourselves and ‘unstructuring’ our play time, as ‘unstructured time in nature can unlock paths to new learning, intuition, and knowledge’ (Hough, 2009, p.4).

‘The outdoors has an endless capacity to surprise. Its joys are unscripted, its discoveries your own’ (Monbiot, 2013, p.169).

We must strive for a future where we realise the fierce urgency for natural play, embrace the possibilities of our landscape and see a real change in the lives of our children, ourselves and the environment.

References and Further Reading:

Barton, B. (2007) Safety, risk & adventure in outdoor activities. London: Paul Chapman.

Barnes, P and Sharp, B (eds) (2004) The RHP Companion to Outdoor Education. Lyme Regis: Russell House Publishing.

Bird, W. (2004) Natural fit: can green space and biodiversity increase levels of physical activity? Sandy, Bedfordshire: RSPB [available online at:]

Bird, W. (2007) Natural thinking: investigating the links between the natural environment, biodiversity and mental health. Sandy, Bedfordshire: RSPB [available online at:]

Bond, D. (2013) Project Wild Thing, Available at: [viewed: 1/12/13]

DEFRA (2011) The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature, Available at: [viewed: 16/10/13]

DEFRA (2013) Landscape and Outdoor recreation evidence plan, DEFRA: London

Department for Education (2003) Every Child Matters, Available at: [viewed: 16/10/13]

Department for Education (2006) Learning outside the classroom, Available at: [viewed: 16/10/13]

Designed to Move (2012) Designed to move: A Physical Activity Action Agenda, American College of Sports: USA

Gill, T. (2007) No Fear - Growing up in a risk averse society, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation: London

Gill, T. (2010) Nothing Ventured - balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors, English Outdoor Council

Hough, F. (2009) Getting Lost in the Woods: And Other Gateways to Creativity, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Education, Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Institute for Public Policy Research (2008) A Generation of Youth are being Raised Online, Available at: [viewed: 17/10/13]

Kings College (2011) Understanding the diverse benefits of learning in natural environments. Commissioned by Natural England. Retrieved from: (Accessed: 10/11/13)

Louv, R. (2005) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books: Chapel Hill

Louv, R. (2012) The Nature Principal - Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual World, Algonquin Books: Chapel Hill

Monbiot, G. (2013) Feral – searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. Allen Lane: London
Mortlock, C. (1984) The Adventure Alternative. Cicerone Press: Cumbria, UK.

Moss, S. (2012) Natural Childhood Report, The National Trust

Natural England (2009) No Charge? Valuing the Natural Environment, Natural England: Sheffield

Orr, D. (2002) The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention: Ecology, Culture and the Human Intention, Oxford University Press: New York

Palmer, S. (2007) Toxic Childhood - how the modern world is damaging our children and what we can do about it, Orion Books: London

Pyle, (2008). No child left inside: Nature study as a radical act. In Gruenewald, D.A. & Smith, G.A., (Eds.). Place-based education in the global age. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum. 155-172.

RSPB (2012) Every Child Outdoors – Wales, Available at: [viewed: 16/10/13]

Shellenberger, M. & Nordhaus, P. (2005). The death of environmentalism: Global warming politics in a post-environmental world. Available at: [accessed: 24/12/13]

© 2014 Menna Pritchard All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Make a Smart Restart!

Those that follow me on twitter, especially in recent months, will know that I am passionate about promoting #naturalchildhood and getting kids outdoors so that we can raise a generation of engaged, creative, inquisitive, healthy individuals! Despite this enthusiasm, as a parent I know first hand how difficult it can be to find the time and sometimes, the motivation.

So when I heard about Change 4 Life Wales' Smart Restart campaign it was easy to get behind it.

Smart Restart aims to help parents with children from 4 to 11 years old to make pledges to change their lifestyles for the better. Those who sign-up are supported with fitness tips, recipes, and advice via the Change4Life website and, as I selected, a weekly email and text message.

Change4Life Smart Restart is looking for families all over Wales to sign up online and make a pledge to change one thing – be it preparing healthier lunchboxes, avoiding sugary snacks, or swapping the car for the bike or your legs!!

The pledges are:
  • Stretch Your Legs: Swap some of your regular car or bus journeys for walking, scooting or cycling.
  • Super Lunches: Help keep your kids going right through the school day with our ideas for quick and tasty lunches.
  • Screen-Time Switch: Tempt them away from their screens for 30 minutes a day, with loads of fun game ideas.
  • Beat the Treats: Swap some of your kids’ treats for healthier alternatives.
  • 10-Minute Moves: 60 minutes’ activity a day helps kids stay healthy. Break it down into 10-minute chunks and that goal is easier to reach.
Sweet potato hedgehog, Autumn inspiration
To be honest I wanted to make pledges for them all, but the emphasis is on one to get you started, and there is nothing stopping you taking inspiration from the others!
Already making an effort to reduce Ffion's screen time and be more active outdoors, I chose to 'Beat the treats!'.

I have been fortunate that Ffion has always been a fairly good eater, never too fussy, open to new tastes and textures, especially as a baby and toddler. Recently however, as she has grown in confidence and independence, she has more of an opinion about her food. She also has a sweet tooth, and often the first question I get when I collect her from school is "can we go get some sweeties?"... something I regularly give in to when faced with a tired, pleading face... "I've been good at school Mama, look I got a sticker, please?". Mothers guilt (...there's always something!)
Home Cinema!

What has been key here is changing my mindset... and eventually helping influence hers - there is no nutritional value to sweets, they are not a 'treat'! Off the back of this simple "Beat the treats" pledge, we are making small but steady steps towards drastically reducing the amount of sugar in our diet. I have been shocked at just how many 'healthy', savoury foods contain added sugar (take a look next time you're adding items to your trolley!)

I enjoy receiving an encouraging (non patronising) text on the Monday... we're half way through! We've had suggestions to try making home-made popcorn (something that I loved as a child too!) and to try a new vegetable this week.

For those that haven't tried home-made popcorn... why not?! We picked up 1kg of organic kernels from our local health food shop for just £2.50 and probably have enough to keep us going for six months! How much is a small tub when you go to the cinema?! We created instead a home movie night! (Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup; oil-popped popcorn has only 55 calories per cup, it is low in fat and high in fibre!).

And this week, rather than a new vegetable I re-introduced one that has failed in the past. Sweet potatoes. 
We made an Autumn colours inspired dinner, with a goats cheese and red onion quiche, cherry tomatoes and a sweet potato hedgehog... which was a huge hit, although was too fun not to play with first!

If you feel inspired to introduce some small changes, to make a smart restart, register for the Change4Life Smart Restart, here:

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Talkin' 'bout my (New) Generation...


I think it would be a fair assumption to say that most of my readers/followers have heard of and/or own GORE-TEX products? From Arc'teryx to Berghaus, Mammut, Marmot, Mountain Equipment and more - all the best outdoor brands are proud to have the GORE-TEX diamond tag hanging from their waterproof and windproof garments. I think it would also be fair to say that the majority of you have had a hugely positive experience of your GORE-TEX products. I know I have.

Oz from the Betws store
Walk-in to Ben Nevis
New Generation Gore-tex Pro test team
Gore works with the best athletes and various mountain guide associations around the world to develop the perfect products for their daily use. A little closer to home, GORE-TEX and Mountain Equipment have a very close working relationship with the guides and leaders based at Plas Y Brenin National Mountain Centre, here in the UK.

Those of you that know a little about me will know that I work for Cotswold Outdoor - which means I am fortunate enough to receive training on and from all your favourite outdoor brands in order for me to kit you out with the best gear for your adventures. This training often takes place in the form of us being able to try out and test kit for ourselves - a definite perk of the job.

Back in July last year I attended the Cotswold Academy Climbing Skills course down in the sunny Avon Gorge (read about my time on the course here)- fast forward 6 months to January 2013, minus around 20 degrees celius in temperature, and add the stunning Scottish Highlands and it was time for the Cotswold Academy Winter Skills course in Glencoe.

The Experience
I was looking forward to having some time to myself on the train journey up to Glasgow, and finally got round to reading High Infatuation by Steph Davis - some good inspiration from one of my favourite climbers. It wasn't hard to spot other Cotswold employees on route to Scotland, lugging our big Mountain Equipment kit bags on and off trains, and so I was later joined by Oz from the Betws-Y-Coed store.

We arrived in a very wet Glasgow and made the long but beautiful coach journey to the stunning Alltshellach Country House where we were greeted by the Cotswold Academy team, Plas Y Brenin Guides and the guys from Mountain Equipment and Gore. It was straight into sorting kit before dinner and the first of our evening lectures.

Avalanche awareness -
building a rutsch block

Pride of place in everyone's kit bags were our New Generation GORE-TEX Pro Mountain Equipment hard shells. Aside from the brands, mountain guides and athletes who have helped develop this product over the last few years, we were among some of the first to get to test these new generation jackets. And test them we certainly would...!

This included a windy day on Buachaille Etive Beag, practicing moving on steep ground, ice axe self-arrests and building Rutsch blocks and snow holes - all this was perfect for testing that durability and abrasion resistant fabrics that GORE-TEX products are so well known for. Despite some hilarious shapes being thrown as we each took our turns sliding down the hillside and plunging in our axes, and despite the wind knocking some of us around more than we had anticipated, the jackets stood up to the test.

Perhaps the most special day though, certainly for me, was our last day on Ben Nevis, which saw the whole team (including those of us doubting our physical - and mental - capabilities) take on Ledge Route. Arguably the best route of its kind in the UK, the Ledge route has a bit of everything - starting in No. 5 Gully on Ben Nevis and weaving an improbable line up Carn Dearg Buttress, leading to a narrow ridge and finally the summit of Carn Dearg on the Ben Nevis plateau. And as well as being on one of the best routes of it's kind, we were also joined by one of the UK's top climbers - Dave MacLeod, what a privilege.

The walk in was gentle and kind to those of us who were tired from the previous days out on the hill, and was a great warm up before tackling the steeper ground of Ledge Route, including a few rock steps to negotiate and a few exposed ridges.
Warm, dry, comfortable and happy
The Plas Y Brenin guides overwhelmed me with their patience, encouragement and commitment to seeing not only the group, but each of us individually, achieve things that some of us doubted we could achieve.
After a windy, cloudy and snowy climb, we were rewarded on our descent with spectacular views over the Scottish Highlands... a magical moment.

While the view, the climb and the people I shared it with all made this a memorable experience, I was able to enjoy it all the more because I was protected, warm, dry and comfortable throughout the whole trip.

For someone who "runs hot" when it comes to activities, but chills off very quickly when stationary, I was overwhelmed at how little (if at all) I needed to play around with my layering system when wearing our Mountain Equipment new generation Gore-tex Pro jackets. I wore it on all three days as my outer shell with either just a base layer, or a base layer and fleece, and despite the freezing temperatures, spindrift and wind chill, despite the frequent work-rest cycles - I stayed comfortable and my regulation of body temperature remained at a near constant.

The technology
New generation GORE-TEX Pro is designed for extreme and extended use on the hill which is going to offer you better comfort in more conditions - and while it's going to keep you protected from the wind and rain when walking the dogs, or strolling along the coastal path, it's also going to withstand multi-day trips tackling mixed routes in the Scottish Winter to multi-week excursions backcountry skiing in Canada. It's going to handle your heavy packs, your harness, ropes and slings. It's going to work whether you're in temperatures of -20 or +10 C. It's also going to work whether the humidity you're operating in is 35% or a rather unbearable 100%!

This new generation fabric has a completely new membrane, exclusively used in GORE-TEX products, and consists of multiple ePTFE layers with a unique microstructure.
Ledge Route
Ultimately, it's the durably waterproof windproof GORE-TEX you have come to know, love and depend on, but with improved ruggedness and up to 28% increased breathability.

The Thank You's
I really can't emphasise how wonderful our stay was, nothing was too much trouble for the hotel staff, we were looked after so well and the meals were all wonderful.

And of course the guys at PYB, Mountain Equipment and Gore-Tex for providing us with not only all the amazing kit but the knowledge and experience to back it all up.

After looking forward to it for many months, it feels sad to know it's all over... but it has fueled an already burning passion for the mountains, and inspired me to keep getting out there, to make the most of my limited and precious time off - and to wear the best gear to ensure my time on the hill is safe, enjoyable and most of all memorable!

  • New Generation GORE-TEX Pro will be launching exclusively to Cotswold Outdoor in early June, before hitting other stores! 
  • Cotswold will be running a customer blog competition throughout June and July - keep an eye on the website for news! 
  • Thanks to GORE-TEX, Mountain Equipment, DMM and The Mountain Boot Company for the use of equipment throughout the course. 
  • Thanks to the PYB Guides and staff at Alltshellach for a memorable stay. 
  • Thank You to The Cotswold Academy Team for the experience. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Mother or Mountain Guide

Those of you whom I bore with my tweets will know I have recently been writing an essay regarding the issues facing parents who also choose a career in the outdoors.
While this is obviously an issue close to my heart, it also affects many around us, perhaps it even affects you?

The following is some initial research towards what I hope will become the theme of my dissertation.
I would welcome any feedback and thoughts, personal reflections, reading suggestions...

Mother or Mountain Guide: Is having a career in the outdoors compatible with being a parent?

On the 13th August 1995, Alison Hargreaves died, aged 33, in a blizzard descending K2. Just three months earlier in the May of that year, Hargreaves had become the first woman to make it to the summit of Everest alone, unsupported and without any artificial oxygen. She received almost universal praise. "One of the greatest climbs in history," declared the front page of the Times (Barnard, 2002). But following her death on K2, the media criticized her for leaving behind her two children, excoriated by media commentators for "foolhardiness", "self-indulgence" and "abandoning her two young children" (Arthur, 2000).

There are two important issues raised here: the career choices we make once becoming a parent, and also a matter of gender and what expectations are placed on a woman when she becomes a mother.

“It seems many of us have fixed ideas about what a mother should be” (Douglas, 2012)

Many male mountaineers have died ‘doing what they love’ after achieving great feats within the climbing community – have they come under the same criticism that Alison Hargreaves and her family faced following her death?

Barnard (2002) presents us with the question: “If a woman is brilliant in a profession that is dangerous and she becomes a mother, how old do her children have to be before it is acceptable for her to return to work?”

Surely this is question for any parent. What do we deem acceptable once we have the responsibility of a child to consider? Reflecting the words of Ed Douglas, it seems many of us have fixed ideas about what a parent should be. And how do those feelings change for those of us who become parents?

And is it still a man’s world? Many people are brought up with the idea that physical activities involving a high amount of risk are not for women (O’Brien, Saunders & Barnes, 2004) which is further discouraged when a woman becomes a mother. This was highlighted by the savage press treatment Alison Hargreaves received following her death, after such praise of her achievements just a few months earlier. Do we see the same hounding in the press of male mountaineers?

Despite telling his wife he was going on a skiing holiday, David Hempleman-Adams was praised by the media on his return from his expedition to be the first person to walk solo to the geomagnetic pole (Hann, 2003).

Let us also look at the treatment of Alex Lowe, who passed away in a massive slab avalanche in Tibet on October 5th, 1999: Lowe was widely considered as one of his generation’s finest mountaineers. He left behind a wife and three children under the age of ten. However, instead of reflecting on his career choices as foolhardy and selfish, he was praised for his love and commitment to his family despite being away on exploratory trips for long periods of time and tackling dangerous first ascents. His obituary in the New York Times stated: “Unlike many other serious climbers, Lowe also resolved to put his wife and children first. He acknowledged that mountaineering entailed risks, but said that experience increased the margin of safety” (Wren, 1999).

In an interview with Outside Magazine in the year of his death, Lowe said his biggest challenge was balancing the passion to climb with his love for his family, whom he described as life's greatest reward.

''I would let climbing slide away if I had to, to maintain my relationship with my family,'' he said. ''Because it really is the big adventure.'' (Wren, 1999).

Rob Hall, the New Zealand Mountaineer and Guide, died on Everest in 1996 while his wife was seven months pregnant. The fact that he died whilst trying to save an exhausted client confirmed his status as the world's most respected leader of commercial Himalayan expeditions (Venables, 1996).

Venables (1996) explains there was some consolation in knowing that Jan Arnold had herself climbed Everest with Hall in 1993, that she had shared his dreams and she understood the risks. And she knew that, in a situation where "Every man for himself" is the norm, her husband had died trying to save another life.

Why was there such a stark contrast between the reactions towards a father and a mother?

Giddens (1997) states: “Clearly, gender socialisation is very powerful and challenges to it can be upsetting. Once a gender is ‘assigned’ society expects individuals to act like females and males”.

Gender socialisation processes influence our expectations (O’Brien, Saunders & Barnes, 2004). With these heavy expectations placed on a mother the result is often that her family commitments will be more important than her need for adventure. Pottinger (1994) expresses some women often feel guilty leaving family members behind while pursuing their own leisure time. I can back this view point from personal experience. While I enjoy and value my leisure and adventure time away from my daughter, at this point in time it is always overshadowed by a feeling of guilt that I should instead be ‘playing mum’ and that it’s not yet my time.

These were the findings in a study carried out by Allin (2000). The results showed that many women felt they had been held back or forced to put their careers on hold, or to indeed choose between a family and career because of family commitments.

Sharp (1998) also expresses that the conflict between coaching responsibilities and the need to travel and prepare courses alongside trying to maintain a family life is a barrier that women face when pursuing a career in the outdoors.

I created a survey to help me gain a general feel of people’s opinion on parenthood and their careers within the outdoors. While rather elementary in its approach, the results were fairly conclusive.

While I believe these conflicts between family life and a career are not gender specific issues and experienced by both parents, evidenced in the survey results, I do believe that the real issues lies in the different expectations placed on men and women.

I found it encouraging that the male/female split of participants was relatively close to an even divide. It was also revealing to see that men experienced the same feelings of compromise as that of mothers working within the outdoor industry, showing that despite the different treatment of genders within the media, and the different expectations placed on men and women, that when it comes to being a parent, we all experience very similar feelings.

It is evident that on becoming a parent, one feels that sacrifices are not only made within ones career, but in family life as well.

It is also apparent that despite continued developement and understanding, and changes in opinions towards women within the outdoor industry, when it comes to being a parent, a women’s role as a mother is still clearly defined by society.

If these opinions will ever change, remains to be seen.

The numerous issues we have glimpsed at in this piece I hope to further explore in my dissertation.


Allin, L. (2000) Women in Outdoor Education: Negotiating a Male-Gendered Space – Issues of Physicality. In Humberstone, B. (Ed.) Her Outdoors: Risk, Challenge and Adventure. Eastbourne: LSA

Arthur, Charles. (2000) Regions of the Heart reviewed [online] Available at: [] Viewed: 28/8/12

Barnard, Josie. (2002) I loved her because she wanted to climb the highest peak. The Guardian, Wednesday 28th August
Barnes, P. & Sharp, B. (2004) The RHP Companion to Outdoor Education, Russell House Publishing: Dorset

Douglas, Ed. (2012) Burnt at the stake by the Media [online] Available at: [] Viewed 28/8/12

Gidden, A. (1997) Sociology. (3rd Edition) Cambridge: Policy Press

Hann, M. (2003) Gentlemen prefer mountains. The Guardian, Friday April 11th

Pottinger, R. (1994) Mountain Leader Training: Why Women only courses? The Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Leadership. 11: 1, 15-16

Sharp, B. (1998) The Training of Mountain Leaders: Some Gender Concerns. European Journal of Physical Education. 7: 2, 85-94

Venables, S. (1996) Obituary: Rob Hall. The Independent, Wednesday 22nd May

Wren, C. (1999) Obituary: Alex Lowe. The New York Times, October 7th [online] Available at: [] Viewed 28/8/12

All words Copyright: Menna Pritchard, 2012

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Review: Haglofs Womens Barrier II Q Hoody

The problem with insulated jackets, for me anyway, is that once you put them on... they're pretty hard to take off. Once the nights get dark and the evenings get colder, so begins my insulated season.

I used to live in my decade old Rab down until I recently lost it (or so I thought, has since been found - hurrah) and so begun the hunt for another.

Haglofs Women's Barrier II Q Hood Jacket
As always, I wasted far too many hours looking online and in-store to find the 'right' one ...And did I want Synthetic or Down?  British weather vs. Weight/cost?

Whilst in North Wales this January I was lucky enough to stumble accross the Haglofs Womens Barrier II Q Hoody in the Betws-y-coed Planet Fear store. The closest thing I had tried on before finding this was the Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody (although the Arc'teryx is 155g lighter!), which I came very close to buying - until a close friend of mine bought it for his girlfriend, also a friend of mine... and well, we wouldn't want to be seen in the same jacket would we...!   And well, the real reason was the cost, which at this point was around £180. Reasonable but a big ask for my current student budget.

So when I saw the Haglofs on sale for half this cost... well I couldn't resist trying it on. A compliment from a male friend later and I was at the till with my debit card*
*may not be based on actual events

I've never really considered buying Haglofs before. The price tag maybe? Alongside a few other quality outdoor brands, I can nearly always be seen in Rab, and while I believe they still design and produce great clothing, it was a shame to be so disappointed with my recent purchase of a Microlight Alpine Down jacket from them. While, as always, I love the colours and cut of the jacket, it leaks down all over, piercing tiny holes in the fabric, which even tore in the first week of wear.

The Cons

Are there downsides to the Haglofs jacket?

Yes, the outer shell, has an almost matte finish to it, which looks and feels lovely. But it is terrible to mark and stain! Having a toddler who often catches round or reaches up to me with sticky/snotty/wet/dirty hands, and with our regular jaunts out to the woods or beach, I have found I am having to wash it on a bi-weekly basis, which means it also requires DWR re-treatment more often.

This really though, is it's only down side.

The Pros

As my brother would say "Women with a map, good luck!"
I am utterly impressed with the quality and attention to detail in this garment, from the comfortable Polartec Power stretch cuffs and articulated elbows, down to the tags on the zips and drawcords (which happen to be a bit of foam and knotted elastic on my Rab microlight down... eek). It just feels quality, without wanting to sound pretentious.

The cut and fit is perfect for my curvy, 5ft 4" frame, but I would hazard a guess that the body length may not suit tall athletic frames... although I may stand corrected.

And it's warm. Really warm. It's first outing was along Crib Goch in lovely snowy conditions. And I haven't really taken it off since!  (Except for it's rather frequent laundry trips). 

While I may only be able to afford it when it's Last Season/On Sale - Haglofs will definitely be making more of an appearance in my outdoor wardrobe.

The speccy bit:
  • Women's model.
  • Highly compressible.
  • Body section in a warmer insulation.
  • Very wind and water resistant.
  • Hood with 3-way adjustment and elastic cord.
  • Full-length front zip.
  • Cuffs in Polartec® Power Stretch®.
  • Articulated elbows.
  • Two handwarmer pockets, of which one that also works as a stuff sack for the jacket.
  • One inner pocket with zip.
  • Single-hand adjustable hem with draw cord. DWR treated (Durable Water Repellent).
  • Weight: 520 g (size M)
    Shell layer
    • Performac™ 1001
      A 30-denier mini ripstop weave with low weight and bulk. Highly breathable, windproof, downproof and fiberproof by construction and calandering. DWR treated surface with a great touch.
      Material: 100% Polyester
      Weight: 58 g/m²
    • Thermolite® Micro 100 g/m2
      We use only the best product from Thermolite® called Micro. This patended microfiber technology provides a natural and soft feel for comfort. One of the warmest synthetic insulations on the market compared to others with the same thickness. Very compressible and easy to care for. Haglöfs uses three different weights/thicknesses, i.e 80, 100 and 150 g/m2.
    • Thermolite® Micro 150 g/m2
      We use only the best product from Thermolite® called Micro. This patended microfiber technology provides a natural and soft feel for comfort. One of the warmest synthetic insulations on the market compared to others with the same thickness. Very compressible and easy to care for. Haglöfs uses three different weights/thicknesses, i.e 80, 100 and 150 g/m2.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Where the art is...

This post was inspired by Chicks Climbing post on twitter about Whitney Orban's combined passions of climbing and painting.

I also recently posted on my twitter account about Artist and Alpinist Andy Parkin, combining his passions by creating sculptures out of DMM climbing gear scraps. See the video of the 'Universal Man' creation here, by Ray Wood.

I studied Fine Art at college from the ages of 16-18, but since then the number of occasions I've had a paint brush in my hand have been few and far between. In fact, I've definitely put more paint on walls than I have canvas in the last 10 years!

But, I promised myself 2012 would be a creative year. So, here I am opening myself up to comment, eek. 

I'm desperately out of practice but you have to start somewhere...

Shake out - Daniel at Winspit Quarry
Watercolour on Cardboard (a 5.10 shoe box!)

Study of Burry Port Lighthouse and Harbour
Acrylic, Watercolour, Pen, Glue, Newsprint on Canvas

Sneak peek at Self Portrait, Work in Progress
Acrylic on Canvas

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Response...

(It goes without saying that not everyone will, but if you would like to use any of the photos or words here, please ask my permission first)

Ok, let's rewind.

Just over two weeks ago, I was a "nobody", and maybe had 20 or so regular visitors to my blog, but I saw all that change overnight.

I originally agreed to be interviewed by the Western Mail, for which I was paid nothing, for what turned out to be largely a very positive article (perhaps somewhat sensationalised in places). My only desire was to promote baby-wearing and getting out with your little ones, to inspire parents to lead active, healthy lifestyles and to encourage particularly single parents, that despite all our dark days that our lives can be greatly enriched by exploring and discovering the world with our little ones, embracing the awe and wonder that can often be forgotten until we view things through their eyes.

Unfortunately off the back of this article, several images were lifted from this blog and sold onto national newspapers without my permission. The freelance journalist Rob Eveleigh from 'Hook News' will have made money from my photo every time it has been used, and I am seeking legal advice regarding this.

The media furore this sparked resulted in a good two-weeks of being contacted 24/7 from worldwide press. I turned down many generous financial offers for further coverage of this story. I turned all this down because, as highlighted before, my initial desire always lay in promoting active lifestyles, it never stemmed from making any money, of which I haven't.

As a result of this media coverage I received a mixture of contact from individuals, all over the world. I chose not to read any of the comments posted on the Internet as many were extremely hurtful, as were some of the direct emails and facebook messages I received. At the heart of some of those messages I can appreciate that there lies a genuine concern for a childs welfare, which is a noble and admirable thing.

Some of those messages caused tears, some laughter, and others were inspiring, humbling, and extremely touching.

Let me go some way to explain, what I know and can appreciate appeared a shocking image to many:

Helmets - We were wearing helmets from different, harder climbs further along the crag that day that Ffion was not a part of. She was playing and rock pooling elsewhere on the beach, being looked after by myself and my best friend while I occasionally climbed.
    The location I was climbing in with Ffion is a popular beach with families and we often explore and rock pool there. Indeed, just around the corner from where that photo was taken, families were picnicking and playing on the beach at the base of those cliffs. Should they also have had helmets on in case of rock fall?

    What was portrayed as a 'daunting, sheer cliff face' is a small, easy-angled slabby climbing area. The route itself (for anyone who knows or cares) is only graded a Diff. It is a popular, well-climbed area. Due to the style of climbing, should I have fallen or slipped I would not have fallen further than where I came off (give or take some minimal rope stretch - to Ffion and I this would have had less impact on us than what she puts herself through at the soft play centre). With the angle of the rock, and the ease of the climb I would not have swung in a way that would have caused injury to myself or Ffion. I got about half way up the climb before Ffion and I were slowly, and safely lowered off by our belayer.
        I am not a 'dare-devil mum' who just stuck Ffion on my back for the thrill of it without any consideration of the situation. Ffion asked to come on my back and I weighed up the risks. She is used to being in her carrier as we hill-walk and explore a lot. She loves being in it, and no matter how much she wriggles about in it to see the world, she has always been safe in it. The carrier is designed to carry children up to 45lbs/20kgs and at the time, Ffion probably weighed around 25lbs/11.36kgs.

        I was out climbing with experienced and qualified climbers, climbing beside me was someone who holds both their SPA and ML awards and is MIA trained. Should there have been any doubt in their minds that what I was doing exposed Ffion to a greater level of risk than she faces in our day to day living, I know they would have shared their thoughts and opinions with me. They though, like myself, weighed up the risks and benefits, as I do in everything I do with Ffion. I have had emails saying I shouldn't even hill-walk with her in case I twist my ankle, but surely walking around town with her carries this same risk? Cycling with babies and children on our bikes carries a risk of crashes resulting in anything from bruises to fatality but we don't see this making Page 3 of the Daily Fail. Taking our children swimming carries with it a risk of drowning, yet many of us engage in this activity. I could go on...where do we draw the line?

        She loved the experience and although I know she probably won't remember it when she is older (aside from the photographic evidence of it!) she still talks about it 6 months down the line, but now expresses an interest in climbing by herself. She has her own harness and helmet and we will continue to go out climbing, for as long as she enjoys it. 

        While I regret my naivety with regards to the press, I am happy with the lifestyle choices I have taken with my daughter. Anyone who knows Ffion, knows she is a wonderful, intelligent, sociable girl with a passion for life and learning. And, for as long as she enjoys it, we will spend lots of our time outdoors, exploring everything it has to offer.

        She has a mother who loves spending time with her, who desires and strives to give her an excellent quality of life.

        Could we spend this much time and effort talking about the greater risks in our society today... children who are living on a diet of junk food, tv and games? Or who are dying from second hand smoke?

        If it's ok with the nation, I would like to continue to focus my energies on being the best Mama I can, studying hard, working hard, training hard, and trying to live each day to the full for the sake of my daughter and myself.

        Thank You. 

        "...I burnt my eyes to see the sun, for what it is, not what the words of everyone have told me I should see, so make your conscious clear enough to make your judgements when you look at me..." 
        Gold & Silver by Brother & Bones

        "And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more."
        Erica Jong

        "If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary."
        Jim Rohn

        "Dare to risk public criticism"
         Mary Kay Ash

        Sunday, 8 January 2012

        Reflections on Route Setting

        What route are you taking?
        What is its purpose?
        Who are you trying to please?
        think creatively,
        decide on the next move,
        consider what others want,
        push your limits,
        help others push theirs.
        consider how are you positioning yourself.
        being responsible for someone's safety and satisfaction
        providing inspiration, excitement and challenge

        All of the above relate to other aspects of my life.

        Sometimes reflection leads to further reflection and for me something as simple as looking back at a day of route setting can suddenly spark thoughts on other aspects of life. For me, reflection can help me gain a greater understanding of or give me clarity on certain situations, it doesn't provide the answer, but it does provoke a deeper appreciation of the thought process behind my decisions and choices in life.

        And yes I'm off to hug a tree now.